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Happy Chinese New Year!

“Think of Chinese New Year’s Eve as a very important first date.

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If you have failed to follow through on the New Year’s resolutions you made last month, you have another chance coming this Friday with the New Chinese Lunar New Year.

You can restart the promises you made to yourself and hope to keep them until the end of the year.

Truth is, I have a couple of Chinoy friends and acquaintances who start their year on the Chinese New Year, rarely on 1 January. The intervening weeks they use to fine-tune the plans they intend to hatch.

I’ve never been one to keep resolutions, so the new years — Chinese or not — never really bothered me. However, the celebrations that come with both occasions — those concern me a lot.

New Year’s Eve I’ve always spent at home, except that time when a friend dragged me to watch the fireworks show by the mall by the bay with some foreign guests he was showing around. I’ve always been deathly scared of fireworks, so the fact that I was out that night surprised me. I thought I would have to spend the morning holed up in somebody else’s house just to avoid the firecrackers I expected our neighbors to light. But surprise! By the time I got home past 1 a.m., all was quiet in our barangay.

Chinese New Year is a different thing altogether. It was a fairly quiet night for me, until I met this set of Chinoy friends. Suddenly I got invites to their parties at their exclusive enclaves. I kept extending my regrets until one time my curiosity prompted me to say yes.

So, after planning a meetup with a friend who had a car, we drove all the way to this village in Quezon City, which was the farthest place you will find me at 9 p.m. at that time of my life. We made our way through the twisting roads, made a wrong turn somewhere, before we found the address.

“She said they would have guests. I didn’t expect they’d invite the whole village, too,” my friend said.

True enough, we had to park two blocks away because the road was lined with cars of guests who were partying with them that night.

It was a shindig unlike any other. At three hours to midnight, the party was just getting started. The line to the buffet — yes, everything was catered, especially the roast beef — stretched from here to there. And there were lots to eat that night, really good stuff, if I may say.

A little before 11 p.m., my Chinoy friend begged her family’s leave, and she bundled us all into a van as we headed to the Mandarin Oriental in Makati City to watch the hotel’s Chinese New Year celebration.

We made it there a quarter before midnight, just as the geomancer was blessing the paying crowd. And when they started the countdown, we opened all the windows of the van — and even the sunroof — to try to see as much as we can of the fireworks.

After we’ve had enough, we’d stop for a few moments at someone’s place for coffee and sweets, before calling it a night.

To celebrate New Year’s Eve twice in a year is more than most people can ask for.

If you are planning on celebrating Chinese New Year this year, here are some tips.

• Do visit a salon before New Year’s Day. Get a trim, a shave, a mani-pedi. Think of Chinese New Year’s Eve as a very important first date.

• Do dress the part. On New Year’s Eve, put on a new pair of underwear — red, if you are brave enough, with polka dots if you feel like laughing at yourself. You do not really need new clothes, unless if you are hosting dinner. But if it’s just you and the family at home, wear nice looking clothes that are smart, even if they’re just a pair of pajamas.

• Can’t find 12 kinds of fruits for your basket? Just use 12 oranges, then, although you can throw in some apples, pears and even a pineapple. Never bananas, though, because they’re a no-no on this occasion, and not fruits that have seeds the birds can eat.

No chicken on this night, too. A whole fish, preferably steamed, is best.

And before going to bed that night, fill the table with food you expect to have during the coming year: sugar, salt and rice are staples; a bottle or two of wine or soda; chocolate coins or bars; instant noodles, if you must; and a sticky sweet, such as tikoy or biko. I was even advised to add some cooking oil, because no kitchen can be without it.

Just before going to bed, place all perishables in the fridge and feast on them in the morning.

• Before the stroke of midnight, light an odd number of candles on your home’s sacred space, such as an altar. Also, light 12 incense sticks. Say a prayer of thanks for the past year, and make a wish for the coming year.
Blow out the candles before going to bed, but let the incense die down — it just takes less than hour to burn.

• If you got a red envelope the past year, burn them on this night. Spread something sweet on the envelope before throwing it into the fire to give thanks to the gods for the good things you got last year.

• On New Year’s morning, if you can, go to church to say a prayer. Then, share lunch with some of the people closest to you.

Of course, you need not follow these tips, but they’re simple, painless and won’t cost you a lot.
Kung hei fat choy!j

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